4 Quick Tips to Grow Your Lesson Program

A few days ago, a woman approached me with several questions about her fledgling business–a beginner horseback riding lesson program in Upstate New York–and how she could make it grow. As it stands now, she has a fairly loyal customer base, but their payments do not provide her with an income that is steady enough to support herself and her family. Her full time work schedule means that she can only offer lessons on the weekends and often results in her working 6 to 7 days per week. She is working with a limited number of lesson horses on a small farm with a very small indoor arena. To me, this seemed like a pretty difficult position to be in, but one that I thought many other farm owners could relate to. In this article I will touch on some of the methods by which instructors–or pretty much any equine business owner–can help their business to grow by attracting new customers.

Competition between riding programs is rather fierce these days, as many families elect to forego the weekly riding lessons of the not-so-distant past due to tighter budgets and time constraints. Sometimes a student may have to travel great distances to reach a horse farm. The cost of travel, combined with the cost of the lessons themselves, can very quickly turn into the same amount one might spend on a new car or their monthly rent. When weighed against other expenses, riding lessons may take the back seat. Instructors often need to be not only well-known, but capable of teaching more than just one specific discipline. They must have horses for every rider’s experience level available to them at all times. One mishap or otherwise poor experience can cost an instructor both that student and their reputation as an instructor. That being said, with proper business practices, it is still possible to gain customers and make a living in this field.

Tip #1: Utilize Word of Mouth Advertising

Are your clients happy with your program? Chances are, if they keep coming back and handing you money, that answer is yes. Remind them to tell others about you and your business. If you can, give them an incentive, such as a referral program that provides them with a free lesson if they bring in a new customer. Offer to give the lesson at the customer’s own location if you can. Word of mouth advertising is extremely powerful–more powerful, even, than social media and print advertising combined. You can’t be sure that someone will spread your name around after a positive experience, but you can be darn sure people will hear about a bad one. Make sure everything that’s said about you is positive!

Tip #2: Take to Social Media

If you aren’t on Facebook, you need to be. Although this social media giant is typically seen as a method for connecting with friends and family and sharing every insignificant detail of your life, it is also a dominant marketing tool for businesses. Facebook advertisements can easily reach thousands of local customers for a very reasonable price. I spent $5 on my last ad campaign and reached 717 individuals. I received 4 new wall posts and over 30 new likes in just the two days the campaign was running. That may not seem like a lot, but every like increases your business’ online “range.” Once a person likes your page, there is an increased chance of your business showing up to their friends as well. Considering the average number of “friends” per user is over 300, that means my business now has the potential to reach about 9,000 more users. That $5 investment doesn’t look so wimpy now, does it?

Facebook also allows businesses to track their page “insights,” including the age, gender and location of the users visiting the page, as well as what they are viewing most and when. Knowing which posts are the most effective at drawing attention is a valuable bit of information for any company, large or small. Users can also join Facebook groups that pertain to their business. There are hundreds of local groups for horse lovers, horses for sale, horse-related discussion forums, and more. Join and participate in as many of them as you can. It’s all about networking.

Tip #3: Keep in Touch via Email

Sending out bi-weekly or monthly emails to your clients can be an efficient way to keep ahead of your competition. A good email subject line, relevant and interesting content, and easy access to your contact info are a few surefire ways to get results from your email blasts. The most straightforward way to collect emails from potential clients is to ask for them. Collect business cards from people and you’ll notice that many of them include an email address. Using an email client such as MailChimp will allow you to create a signup form that can be added to your Facebook page or website, as well as allow you to view your email lists and the results of each email campaign. Don’t use your email blasts just to advertise–make each email worth opening. Offer tips and tricks, savings coupons, event invitations, contests and useful articles to keep your customers opening and reading your emails time and time again.

Tip #4: Appear Often

I cannot stress this enough. It is a proven fact that the more often a business appears to customers, whether it be through personal interactions, business cards, fliers around town, or on the web, the more apt that customer is to remember your business name. Obtain professional business cards and a well-built website. Invest in a sign for the end of your farm’s driveway if possible. Attend seminars and clinics to heighten your skills. If you travel a lot, turn your vehicle into a rolling billboard for your program while you’re at it. Attend shows and events with your students to reap some of the benefits of their blue ribbons when people ask who their trainer is!

Do you have any suggestions for how to bring in customers? Comment below and tell us!

How to Utilize Twitter’s List Feature for Business Success

A friend of mine recently mentioned to me that they had never before used the lists feature on Twitter. I was surprised, to say the least. I had always been under the impression that this feature was well-used, but after speaking to several fellow Twitter-using business owners, I learned this was not the case. That being said, I wanted to write up a quick post regarding the benefits of utilizing Twitter’s list feature for businesses.

List

What are Twitter Lists?

Twitter’s list feature is a method by which users can organize their followers, or users that they are following. When you click on a list you have created, only the tweets from those users on that list will be displayed. In this way, your feeds are more organized and less daunting to pick through.

How Can Your Business Benefit?

Aside from saving your media manager time sorting through the mass of tweets sent out on a daily basis, using the lists feature allows you to separate users into different categories. For instance, one list could be reserved for local businesses, another for out of state businesses, and a third for businesses located in other countries. A printing company might opt to sort the Twitter accounts of potential clients into their associated service sectors. The upcoming graphic designer could keep track of upcoming deals from various print shops by putting these shops into lists. As an added benefit, users have the option to make their lists public or private, meaning that the accounts you include won’t even know they are included unless you allow it. Keeping tabs on the competition without letting them know you’re doing so? Now that’s a sweet deal!

List Subscriptions

Moving beyond the obvious benefits, creating public lists is another way to drive traffic to your account and your business in general. Your business can subscribe to other lists, and users can subscribe to the lists you create. Perhaps your competition has a list of potential clients of their own, viewable to the public–subscribe to this list, and their list is now yours, saving you some time and effort searching for your own.

Do you use the lists feature? How have they helped your business?

How Pinterest Can Help Grow Your Horse Business

Pinterest is a bit of a newcomer in today’s social media craze, but since its launch in 2010, Pinterest has garnered an impressive following and has already proven itself a valuable business asset.  With well over 70 million users worldwide, Pinterest is definitely worth investigating if you are a business owner interested in expanding.  While much of what I am going to be writing about in this article can be applied to any small business, the focus here will be on equine businesses in particular.

What is Pinterest?

Wikipedia defines Pinterest as a photo-sharing website that allows users to organize theme-based galleries, or “boards.”  Therefore one of the first things to note about this website is that it is primarily, if not completely, focused on attractive visual displays.  Users can like or “pin” images posted by other users or businesses to certain boards, and follow boards that reflect their interests.

How Can Pinterest Help?

Rubix at Liberty
© 2014 Cinderhawk Creative
Thoroughbred gelding Rubix enjoying the snow.

When it comes to advertising, the horse industry is predominantly sight-based, meaning that a farm cannot advertise using text alone.  Images, particularly photographs, are a must, and as Pinterest focuses entirely on photos and graphics, this makes it an ideal match for equine businesses.  Below are a few specific industry areas that might benefit from a Pinterest account.

Breeding Farms

Have a photographer capture some truly outstanding images of your farm’s newest stallion.  In addition to the basic conformation shots, include some liberty shots as  well.  Once you have your photos, upload a few and pin them to an appropriately labeled board on your Pinterest account, i.e., “Stallions of ABC Farm.”  Attach some info to the photo including the stallion’s name, location, stud fee, and of course, your farm’s own contact information.  This will help search engines find your page and help bring in new clients.

Lesson Farms

If students in your lesson program are attending a high-rated show, ensure you have someone with you that can photograph them in the show ring when they look their best.  At the end of the day, collect all the ribbons, trophies, and any other winnings and capture a nice, well-lit photograph of them all together.  Pin these to your account and make sure everyone knows where your students were and how they did.  Include a link to your stable’s website to make sure potential customers know who trained those winners!

Non-Profits or Rescues

A cute or beautiful photo of a horse that needs a new home can go a long way on Pinterest, provided you let users know the horse is available and how to contact you in the image description.  Pinterest also makes it easy for non-profits to bring attention to fundraisers due to the ease with which they can pin photos of the products they are selling to raise money.  Users browsing Pinterest also spend an average of $100 more than Facebook users and $140 more than Twitter users.

Boarding Facilities

In keeping with the high-quality photo ideal that dominates Pinterest today, boarding facilities can also benefit from this website.  Farm owners can photograph their property and pin these images, along with location information, prices, contact info, and a link to their website in order to direct potential clients to their stables.

Additional Benefits for Horse Businesses

Not convinced?  Check out these last few bits of information to understand how having an account at Pinterest can truly prove beneficial to your equine business.

  • Almost 80% of horse owners in the United States are women, and roughly 70% of Pinterest users are also women (although as it grows, it is finally gaining popularity with men as well).  This means that Pinterest makes it relatively easy for horse-related businesses to reach their target market.
  • Pinterest is extremely friendly to mobile devices.  This means that you can upload and pin from anywhere–even at that A-circuit show between classes.
  • Since its creation in 2010, Pinterest’s web traffic has grown more than 66%.  It also drives more traffic to websites than Twitter, Google+, Youtube, and Linkedin combined.  Because the horse industry thrives in areas that may lack high-speed internet, choosing the network that drives the most internet traffic in the least amount of time is a wise decision.
  • You can pin videos as well as photos.
  • Businesses can set up boards to allow “guest pinners,” meaning that family who bought the star show horse you trained can keep you updated and spread the word about your horse training services!

Have you used Pinterest to promote your business?  How did it work out?  Tell us about it!  Leave a comment or follow this blog, like us on Facebook, or tweet @Cinderhawk.  Happy Pinning!

The Benefits of Social Media Management

In this day and age social media has become commonplace amongst both individuals and businesses alike, but as more and more outlets make their ways into the market, it is becoming increasingly difficult to effectively manage those outlets.  Facebook broke ground when it introduced its “check in” feature, which allowed users to publicly announce their location, whether it be hiking somewhere in the Adirondacks (if there still happened to be 4G), or at a nearby coffee shop.  A few months earlier, Google, being the all-seeing corporate giant that it is, released their “Near Me Now” application for mobile devices to help users find nearby businesses or events based on their GPS locations.  From there, companies began to realize the benefits of users that “checked in” once they arrived.  It was a virtual smorgasbord of free advertising.  One friend might see another friend’s check in posted to their Facebook page and think, “Hey, if So and So eats there, I should eat there too!”  What’s more, with so many people using Facebook purely for networking, users often have hundreds of friends who might see that post.  As a result, it suddenly became much more intensive to keep up with the networks that began utilizing features like these.

Enter you, the business owner interested in learning how to cope.  You’ve found that a significant portion of your day has been dedicated to sifting through the mass of customer questions, comments, and concerns, generating new or updating current content, managing any ads you may have running at the time, or updating price listings for your annual holiday sale.  In fact, it seems like you hardly have time to run your business at all anymore.  You’ve thought about hiring a social media manager, but worry it is not worth the added expense.  If you’re reading this, obviously you’re still on the verge of making that decision.  Let’s look at some of the benefits of hiring a social media manager.

You will get more done, more quickly

Letting someone else take control of your networks frees you up for other, more important tasks–like running your business!  You will be able to spend more time in person with your customers, more time selling, and more time handling aspects such as taxes, pricing, and bills, without the added worry of finding time to keep your brand in the public eye.  Plus, when you hire someone with a better understanding of these networks, they can spend less time managing, which means increased savings for you.

Your reputation is still under your control

For some, the idea of handing their business’ reputation over to someone else can be a bit daunting.  Recognize though, that just because you are letting someone else handle your content does not mean you cannot supervise!  Your social media manager’s business outlook should be very similar to your own to lessen the chance of any miscommunications or misunderstandings when it comes to customer service or appropriate content.  They should have a vested interest in your company’s success–the better you do, the better they do!

Improved customer service

When a customer reaches out to you with a comment or concern, being able to respond in a timely fashion increases both your credibility and your professionalism.  Your audience will appreciate your interest, and in a day and age with so many choices, it is important to make sure your brand stands out against the competition.

Understand your competition

What is your competitor doing that is gaining them so much attention from their customers?  How do they get so many “likes?”  Why are their posts being shared, while yours sit lonely and forgotten in their own little corner of the social web?  A social media manager can help you understand what you are doing differently from your competition, and whether it is helping or hurting your business.  Plus, they can keep you up to date on what is happening with your competition, their products, and their services.

Expand your customer base

We’ve already discussed how useful social media is for advertising as a rule.  While you are interacting with customers in person at your stores, events, or meetings, your social media manager is interacting with additional customers on the web.  You now have access to twice as many potential clients.   As the saying goes, “two heads are better than one!”

Do you have experience transitioning from self-managed networks to allowing someone to manage them for you?  Did you find things were easier or more difficult?  What are some of the benefits you saw?  Leave a comment and tell us about it!